Roosevelt Papers

The Secretary of War ( Stimson ) to the President

Dear Mr. President: Before the present conferences finish I want to ask again for the reconsideration of one matter which, though minor militarily, is in my opinion very important from the standpoint of the morale of our troops. I refer to the garrison of Iceland.1

You will remember that before Churchill arrived I suggested at one of our conferences that it would be better to let the British take over the entire military garrison of Iceland. Admiral King objected on the ground that it would interfere with his convoy duties in the North Atlantic. I then did not press it further.2 On reflection I do not think King’s reason was valid, for he can have a naval base in Iceland even if the entire military garrison is British. Admiral Pound is planning to do just that thing in case we garrison it. He will retain a naval base.

Now the importance of my point is this: It is much more difficult for American troops to garrison Iceland permanently than it is for British troops. The British are nearer home, and the monotony of the life can be relieved by alternating tours of duty or brief leaves in their homes; whereas to Americans no such means of relief are possible. Our men must be there for the duration. I have received already some reports on the morale of our garrison in Alaska which is similar to Iceland in its winter lack of sunshine. And I remember very well myself that during the Great War the British and the French troops had a great advantage in sustaining their morale over ours in their seven day leaves at home, while we were all in a strange land for the duration of the war. Luckily it then did not last long; but, if you think that you can keep American troops in Iceland for [Page 239] a couple of winters without psychological trouble, I think you will find yourself mistaken. And now is the time to fix that. Iceland is a most dreary place and especially so to a sunshine loving American in winter. They much prefer the rigors of battle to the rigors of boredom in such a climate!

Faithfully yours,

Henry L. Stimson
  1. See the discussion of this subject on December 24, ante, p. 83.
  2. See Stimson’s memorandum of December 21, ante, p. 57.